On Saturday afternoon, Addison Reed entered a one-run game against the Chicago Cubs in the top of the seventh inning with two outs and a runner on first. Kris Bryant was at the plate, representing the go-ahead run. Reed struck him out. He returned for the eighth inning, which has become his familiar spot. After allowing a leadoff single to Anthony Rizzo, Reed proceeded to strike out Willson Contreras, Miguel Montero, and Addison Russell, thus preserving the Mets’ 4-3 lead heading into the ninth inning. It was an outing that has become typical for Reed. His contributions to the Mets’ bullpen alongside closer Jeurys Familia have resulted in a quietly dominant back-end. Reed is having the best season of his career, and he’s been one of the most effective relievers in the National League.
Reed’s path to the Mets is a lesson in the fuzziness of assigned bullpen roles as well as the small sample life relief pitchers lead. Reed began his first full season in the White Sox’ bullpen as a late inning reliever, but not the closer. In 10 of his first 11 appearances, he entered the game in either the seventh or the eighth inning. His single ninth inning appearance was in a tie game. Reed logged four holds for then-closer Hector Santiago. Santiago, however, was not terribly effective as the closer. He allowed 12 hits and six runs in 7.3 innings across eight games. He saved four games but blew two. This set the stage for the White Sox to flip Santiago and Reed. Santiago began entering games late and ended the year as a starter, while Reed held on to the closers role for the remainder of 2012 and 2013. In those two seasons, however, he posted numbers that spoke more to Internet memes than ninth inning dominance: 69 saves and a 4.20 ERA. Additionally, his walk and strikeout rates were good but not great, as Reed struck out 23.6 percent of the 533 batters he faced in those two seasons and walked 7.6 percent of them.
Non-dominant numbers notwithstanding, Reed was a closer. And because of that he demanded a lot of the trade market. Indeed, the Diamondbacks traded Matt Davidson—a top 10 prospect in the organization and a player who ranked as the 93rd-best prospect in baseball after the 2013 season, according to Baseball Prospectus—for Reed in December 2013. As the Diamondbacks’ closer in 2014, Reed saved 32 games. He did so on the back of an ERA that fit his career mark, 4.25, and he even upped is strikeout rate a few percentage points while dropping his walk rate. In 2015, however, he got off to a bad start and soon lost the “closer” designation.
In his first 11 games and 10 innings pitched, he gave up 15 hits, posted an ERA of 7.20, and saved as many games as he blew: two. From the periphery, Reed’s strikeout rate dipped below 20 percent, and his walk rate rose about one percentage point. Through August, Reed got season ERA back down to the familiar weed number it was then that the Mets traded for him. Still, the Mets didn’t have to give up a top 10 prospect to get him. It just took two non-prospects named Matt Koch and Miller Diaz. Reed was excellent for the Mets in late inning relief during September, though he struggled in the postseason.
From Reed’s first season in 2012 to the end of 2015, his role and trade value fluctuated much more than his performance. With Familia firmly in place as the Mets’ closer to start 2016, Reed found himself in the same place he was in his breakout 2012 season: a late inning reliever, just not the closer. Except this time, his performance has changed, and it’s changed for the better. In his first 38 innings of 2016—a small but not insignificant sample size—Reed has posted a 2.37 ERA, and his strikeout and walk rates are higher than they’ve ever been, 29.7 and 6.1 percent, respectively. And Reed hasn’t just been an excellent member of the Mets’ bullpen. He’s been one of the better relievers in the NL. He has the fourth best DRA, 3.02, among NL relievers with at least 35 innings pitched. And Reed’s 82 cFIP suggests believability for his 85 DRA-.
At this point, one might wonder whether or not the Mets’ closer is one of the relievers above Reed on these rankings. He is not. In fact, Reed, former closer, has been more effective than Familia, current closer. Familia’s DRA is a run higher at 4.02. His adjusted DRA- is a close to league average 98, and his 91 cFIP is less optimistic looking forward than Reed’s. This isn’t to suggest that Familia is having a poor season, neither is it to say that Reed should be the Mets closer. Indeed, Reed might prove to be even more valuable in pre-ninth inning high leverage situations, as he was on Saturday when he struck out four batters in a strong Cubs lineup before handing the ball to Familia. It does show that the Mets’ acquisition of Reed for practically nothing in 2015 has proven savvy. The Mets wanted a former close to bridge the gap in the late innings. They got that—except that he’s turned out better than he was when he was racking up saves.
A dive into Reed’s Brooks Baseball page doesn’t reveal any dramatic underlying changes. His fastball and slider usage aren’t career anomalies, and his fastball has remained a steady 93 mph, which is where it’s been since 2013. The same applies to the number of whiffs his fastball and slider have generated. His BABIP against is below his career average .302, but a .280 BABIP is far from extreme.
In other words, the results have improved, but the process by which they have done so is not clear. He’s not been overly lucky, but at the same time, he hasn’t exhibited any underlying changes to which his improvements might be ascribed. Once Reed doubles the 38 innings he’s thrown so far this season, the story might change. For now, however, it’s enough to note that Reed has been one of the best relievers in the NL, and perhaps the most important part of a strong Mets’ bullpen.
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